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No Olympics Cards on Shelves This Time

by Paul Angilly
August 24, 2004

For about two weeks out of every four years, the Summer Olympic Games capture the sporting worldís attention. But unlike in past years, it appears that there will be no major trading card sets issued to commemorate the 2004 Athens Games.

There are a few assorted singles available, mostly from Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine or other hobby periodicals that feature trading cards inside. Thereís also a 25-card set of the USA softball team, available through USA Softball and the Amateur Softball Association (ASA). An ice cream company in Greece is even offering lenticular cards featuring the 2004 Athens mascot. But the major U.S. trading card makers have not yet announced any plans for an Olympics set this year.

Thatís too bad, since recent eBay sales would indicate a strong demand for a set featuring this yearís USA Olympians. For instance: $22.50 for a Sports Illustrated for Kids card of Courtney Kupets (USA gymnast), $154.39 for an autographed Jennie Finch (USA softball) 2004 Playoff Absolute "Fans of the Game" card, $10.50 for a Rookie Review magazine card of USA swimmer Michael Phelps and $5 for a Rookie Review card of swimmer Natalie Coughlin.

Itís also too bad because trading cards depicting Olympic athletes have been around in one form or another almost since the modern games began. Heck, even the best of the ancient Olympians were honored by having their images captured in paintings or sculpture.

Eight years before the modern Olympics began in 1896, card sets from tobacco companies Allen & Ginter, Goodwin and Kimballís produced multi-sport sets that included athletes from future Olympic sports such as boxing, bicycling, lawn tennis, wrestling and rowing.

Many other multi-sport sets that included some well-known Olympic athletes were produced throughout the early part of the 20th century, but perhaps the most notable of those was the 1933 Sport Kings set from the Goudey Gum Company, which also made its first baseball card set that same year. In addition to many baseball, football and hockey players, the Sport Kings set included cards for cyclists, swimmers, wrestlers, tennis players, boxers, golfers and track stars.

Fast forwarding a bit, the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles brought a few sets carrying a Finder Image International copyright, which were produced by Topps and distributed in various ways.

The largest of those sets included 99 cards of past Olympic greats from all countries, such as Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson, Jesse Owens, Bruce Jenner, Jerry West and Cassius Clay. The cards were available in packs or as a boxed factory set.

A smaller 44-card version of the set, with a slightly different design but the same photos on the front and same write-ups on the back, was issued as a boxed set by M&Mís candies. Yet another version, this one a 24-card set, was issued as panels of three cards each, printed on boxes of Hostess snack cakes. The Hostess version also has a slightly different design but uses the same photos and write-ups.

Before the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Impel Marketing (which later became part of Skybox, which is now part of the Fleer Company) made a 90-card set saluting the members of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. In addition to many of the same top names that appeared in the 1983 Topps-produced sets, were cards of Mary Lou Retton, Greg Louganis and the 1964 U.S. Olympic basketball team.

The next year, Impel produced a 110-card set of "1992 U.S. Olympic Hopefuls." That set remains the only major Olympics set made in the USA to feature current Olympians exclusively, rather than top former Olympic stars.

Among the highlights are cards of the U.S. Olympic baseball team (a team photo that includes Jason Giambi, among others), individual cards and a team photo of the first 10 members named to the inaugural "Dream Team" basketball squad, womenís basketball players such as Teresa Edwards, boxers including Oscar de la Hoya, cyclists including Lance Armstrong, gymnasts including Shannon Miller, swimmers including Matt Biondi and track stars including Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

A company called Collect-A-Card made a 120-card set (sold in packs) detailing the history of the Olympics. A few top former Olympians were pictured on their own cards, but most of the cards pictured either generic scenes or the fronts of official programs and posters.

Upper Deck made a set that year that featured both past and current Olympians. The 135-card base set included 90 "U.S. Olympic Moments," (including, among the usual suspects, a card of Gen. George Patton competing in the modern pentathlon), 30 "Future Champions" (including a card of Mia Hamm) and 15 "Passing the Torch" cards (pairing a former and current Olympian, such as Peggy Fleming with Kristi Yamaguchi).

Being a modern card set, the Upper Deck set had plenty of nice inserts. A 20-card "Magical Images" set highlights the fantastic images of famed Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss; a 10-card "Reflections of Gold" set highlights selected past gold medal winners; and a 5-card "Reign of Gold" set features holographic images of multiple gold medal winners.

Most of the Reflections of Gold cards were also available autographed by sending back randomly-inserted redemption cards. Included, among others, are an extremely rare card of Michael Jordan (believed to be 25 or fewer autographed copies in existence), plus Evander Holyfield and Bruce Jenner.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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